BioAmber: Making Bio-Based Plastics the New Normal
by Eleanor Greene
When BioAmber came to LAUNCH for 2014’s Chemistry cycle, this sustainable chemicals company was looking for major traction to find investors and connections. Now, it has found that traction, as in 2015 it opened the world’s largest commercial-scale plant producing bio-succinic acid.
Succinic acid is a building block chemical with an established and growing range of applications. New uses opening up include plastics, coatings, textiles, artificial leather, food and flavors and personal care items. The chemical has been identified by the US Department of Energy as one of the 12 leading candidates for commercial development using bio-based routes as alternatives to petro-chemical-based production.
LAUNCH innovator Louise Batchelor is no longer with the company, so we spoke with Anne Waddell, the vice president of government affairs, about the company’s recent successes. Waddell has been with BioAmber for four years and was instrumental in securing finance for the recently-opened plant.
Waddell says what inspires her is the creation of employment in sustainable manufacturing, with the 60 dedicated individuals at the plant who are producing renewable chemicals using industrial biotechnology. There will be more as BioAmber looks towards building a second plant and other companies with sustainability missions mean this is a growing job sector.
1. BioAmber was involved in Green Chemistry cycle in 2014. What progress have you made on your innovation since LAUNCH?
AW: Since our involvement with the Green Chemistry cycle, we have successfully started up the largest commercial-scale plant producing bio-succinic acid, bringing a reliable source of the versatile bio-based material to market.
The plant is a $140 million investment in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada employing 60 people. The starting materials are sugars from renewable crops and the process overall allows a 100 percent reduction in emission of greenhouse gases when compared with the equivalent conventional process using petroleum. As of now, the plant is operating and we are selling and shipping product.
2. How has BioAmber made an impact on the world, or what impact are you excited about it having?
AW: We are thrilled at having the plant up and running and producing product. This was an incredible achievement. Not only have we got the plant operating quickly but we have obtained the essential safety, environmental and quality management system certifications so that customers can rely on product coming from the plant.
Building the customer base for bio-succinic acid is another important achievement. We are focused on creating market demand through applications development. We have demonstrated the performance of biobased succinic acid in terms of improved water resistance, abrasion resistance, flexibility and other qualities that have applications in everyday products. We have announced partnerships with Covestro (formerly Bayer MaterialScience), Dupont Tate & Lyle and others.
We have excellent data supporting the use of bio-based succinic acid in polyurethanes and resins and coatings where it mainly replaces adipic acid. Covestro, a global supplier of high tech polymer materials used our succinic acid to develop bio-based, water-born polyurethane dispersions to transform fabrics into materials suitable for shoes, bags, and garments.
Our Mission is to be a fast growing producer of chemical intermediates that use sugars instead of fossil fuels and sells competitively priced, sustainable chemicals with strong profit margins and the cleanest environmental footprint in the industry.
3. LAUNCH is all about connecting unexpected partners. Have you connected with any partners to get your innovation to where it is today?
AW: I noted Bayer MaterialScience, a LAUNCH connection. We have also partnered with Mitsui & Co., a large Japanese trading house and a company committed to the further development of sustainable chemistry. We also have a partnership with PTTMCC BioChem, a joint venture between Japan’s Mitsubishi Chemical and Thailand’s energy company.
These partners, among other links to the global chemical supply chain suggest that renewable building blocks will play an important role in the industry of the future.
4. What are you looking forward to the most in BioAmber's future?
AW: Success and growth. We are seeing growing interest from our customers and throughout the supply chain to Brand Owners. We are currently doing site selection for our second plant. Our next plant will produce bio-based succinic acid, 1,4 butanediol (BDO) and tetrahydrofuran using bio-based succinic acid as the feedstock. This will be the first time that biotechnology and traditional chemistry have been joined in such a way.
In April 2015, BioAmber signed a technology licensing agreement with JM Davy which will enable it to move to full scale production, converting BioAmber’s bio-based succinic acid to BDO and THF, which represent large existing markets in the billions of dollars used to make spandex and engineered plastics.